Confessions of Zeno Summary

Summary (Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In “The Last Cigarette,” the first of the six major sections of Confessions of Zeno, Zeno Cosini chronicles his efforts to quit smoking and the amusement of others at his increasing indulgence in the habit. This account of his intended abstinence helps to establish his larger attempt to make some sense of his life: “[D]id I really love cigarettes so much because I was able to throw all the responsibility for my own incompetence on them?” Zeno goes on to outline the numerous defects in his character, including hypochondria and the desire to possess most of the women he meets.

Confessions of Zeno is presented as the protagonist’s autobiography, written to further the work he is doing with his psychoanalyst, Dr. S. If the first section offers fairly superficial information for Dr. S., the second, “The Death of My Father,” is more substantial. Zeno considers his father’s death the most important event in his life because, with it, he lost faith in his own possibilities. He is bitter at his father for dying before he has had a chance to prove himself. The dying man is angry for reasons Zeno cannot fathom and strikes his son at the very moment that he dies. Zeno decides that the violence cannot have been intentional, but his father strikes an even greater blow after his death by leaving his business to Olivi, an employee, rather than to the ineffectual son whom he clearly does not trust.

In “The Story of My Marriage,” the most comic chapter, Zeno makes Giovanni Malfenti his business mentor and father-substitute. He decides, even before meeting them, that he will marry one of Malfenti’s four daughters. He chooses Ada, the most beautiful one, and pursues her like a clumsy schoolboy. His courtship of Ada is so awkward that she thinks he is interested in Augusta, her plain sister. After...

(The entire section is 751 words.)